Waltzes by the Strauss Family (CD review)

Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony; Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. HDTT HDCD406.

Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, said of Sir Georg Solti, "Under his direction, the Chicago Symphony has achieved new heights, and is respected internationally as a world-class organization."  Any number of other people, including Solti himself, expressed that misleading sentiment, proving that people have short memories. Apparently, they had all forgotten that half a dozen years before Solti, the great Fritz Reiner conducted the Chicago Symphony (from 1953 to 1963), raising it to international prominence, and through his RCA Living Stereo recordings helping to pioneer the stereo age.

I mention this information because I always welcome any new remasterings of Reiner's work, especially when they are as good as this one from HDTT (High Definition Tape Masters).

It was with Richard Strauss that Austro-Hungarian born Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) made his name with some of the earliest (1954) stereo recordings of R. Strauss's work; however, Reiner was no slouch when it came to Johann Strauss and family, either, as demonstrated by this brief collection of waltzes by Johann II and Josef Strauss. As I said about Reiner's Johann Strauss music in an earlier review of JVC's remastering of the same material, I like the music, and I like the way Reiner plays it. Almost everything Reiner conducted came out fresher, more pointed, more secure, more clarified, and more refined than ever before. Sure, Willi Boskovsky, another of my favorites in the Strauss family, put a touch more bounce, more verve, into in Strauss waltzes, but Reiner added the element of purity. I like the selections here, too: three Strauss Jr. waltzes: "Morning Papers," "Emperor Waltz," and "On the Beautiful Blue Danube"; and Strauss Jr.'s brother Josef Strauss's waltz "Village Swallows."

For good measure, HDTT have coupled Reiner's J. Strauss recordings with Arthur Fiedler's Boston Pops accounts of Edward Strauss's "Doctrines," Josef Strauss's "Music of the Sphere," and Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Roses from the South." Fiedler, the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops, probably sold more albums in his lifetime than any single conductor in history, and we generally associate him with light music. Perhaps that's why he handles Edward, Josef, and Johann Strauss's music so handily. It may not have quite the same elegant charm of Reiner's Strauss, but it has plenty of pizzazz to compensate.

Fritz Reiner
RCA recorded the music in 1957, and HDTT transferred it from several RCA 2-track tapes. I alluded above that I had reviewed some time ago another remastered edition of the Reiner Strauss music, that one by JVC in their XRCD audiophile series. Naturally, I wondered how the HDTT product would compare to something costing quite a lot more, so I put them in two separate CD players and listened back and forth. Not fair, I hear someone say. JVC not only used a costlier process but took their music directly from the original RCA master tapes, whereas HDTT had only the commercial RCA tapes to work with. Never mind, comparisons are comparisons.

Now, here's the thing: As expected, the JVC product did sound a tad better than the HDTT. The JVC seemed a trifle clearer and cleaner to me, with a bit tauter, deeper bass. Keep in mind, however, that you pay anywhere from two to four times as much for the JVC disc, depending on the HDTT format you choose; and if you didn't have the two discs playing side by side, I doubt that even the most golden ears would know there was a difference at all.

Which means that the HDTT remastering sounds darned good. Like its more-costly JVC counterpart, the HDTT disc sounds smoother and better detailed than the standard RCA product and captures the natural warmth of the venue better, too, at least in the case of the Reiner. I did not have a comparison to make for the Fiedler recordings. However, I can assure you the Fiedler performances sound excellent as well. If anything, they appear even wider in stereo spread and a little more forward in frequency balance than the Reiner things.

Of the two orchestras and concert halls represented here in Chicago and Boston, I preferred the Chicago recordings for their slightly warmer, more realistic sound to the Boston recordings with their more hi-fi-oriented sonics. Nevertheless, preferring the one very slightly over the other takes nothing away from the Boston recordings or performances. Everything on the album is first-rate.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa